Amanda Edwards '89 has made a career of photographing high-profile celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, famous musicians like Bono of U2, and political leaders like former Vice President Al Gore. She is even pals with Betty White, her favorite celebrity muse, who has helped her overcome a fear of snakes! However, it is the lesser-known subjects who appeal the most to Amanda. “I’ve always had a weakness for the underdog, so I’m especially drawn to anyone who has overcome any kind of adversity,” Amanda says. “Although I photograph a lot of well-known celebrities and public figures, the only ones who hold my attention are the ones who really have something to say and make an effort to better our world.”
Amanda can’t remember a time when she didn’t have an interest in photography. While at St. Agnes, she was photo editor of the Lamb’s Tail and decided her goal was to pursue photography as a career. After graduating from SAS, she earned a Master of Arts (honors) in art history from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a postgraduate degree in photojournalism from the London College of Printing. She worked for the Daily Telegraph in London for numerous years, has photographed eight travel guidebooks for Time Out Worldwide, and has been a contributing freelance photographer for Getty Images since 2003. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California with her rescue terrier, Wryly.
Q. What led you to a career in photography?
A. I’ve been fascinated by photographs my entire life. I used to pore over our family albums and couldn’t wait to add new photos. My mother was always dashing out to Ritz Camera during her lunch hour to pick up my latest roll of developed film. I caught the bug at a very early age and decided during my junior year at SAS that I wanted to somehow pursue photography as a career. The idea of being paid to do what I loved was impossible to ignore.
Q. What is a typical day or week like for you?
A. There really is no such thing since each shoot is unique in its challenges. No two shoots are ever the same. Digital technology has changed the entire landscape of press photography. When I first started shooting professionally in 1996 only a handful of photographers had access to digital SLR cameras. The rest of us would shoot a couple of rolls of film per assignment, scan in two or three select images, clean and caption them in Photoshop, and that was that. These days we shoot thousands of frames per assignment and wire out hundreds of images every night. It can be exhausting and highly competitive, but also incredibly exciting. I love that I have a front row seat to so many cool things ranging from rock concerts to street protests to music videos and international film festivals. I always joke that I observe people for a living. Human nature, with all its eccentricities, just fascinates me.
Q. What is your favorite subject to photograph?
A. I’m a rock star at heart and am happiest when I’m shooting live music. I have absolutely no musical talent but covering a live show feels like it might be the next best thing to being on stage. The energy is indescribable, and I get to be right there in the thick of it. It’s such a thrill and gets me every time.
Q. Are there particular SAS experiences that impacted your career?
A. Without question, working on Lamb’s Tail provided my first experience of what was to come. I loved the all-night deadlines where we would pile into the basement of [Michelle] Bunny Lopez ’88, Alice Webb Brown ’88, or Liz Middleton ’88 and literally cut and paste the yearbook together. I would lock myself in the darkroom and print photos for hours while the other editors worked their magic, and somehow we’d have something concrete to present to John Palmer (our faculty advisor) the next morning. Those all-nighters were some of the happiest, silliest times I ever spent at SAS, and they definitely helped pushed my career ambitions forward. Bunny taught me how to make my first darkroom print, and Lila Rifaat Steinle ’87 nominated me to take her place as photo editor when she graduated so I owe them both a particular debt of gratitude.
Q. What advice do you have for SSSAS students interested in photography?
. Start with the basics. Learn the ins and outs of your camera. Today’s cameras can practically make you breakfast, but there’s no substitute for knowing how to control light and/or depth of field. Once you’ve mastered the basics, get out and practice. While you are doing that, make an effort to meet people. You never know who might need something photographed. My freelance career at Getty Images essentially started because I helped a guy with his camera in the photo pit at a Coldplay concert. I had no idea that he was an influential photo editor. He was having problems with a lens, I offered to help, we started chatting, and now it’s eleven years and many hundreds of thousands of images later. Pay attention and be polite—one meeting or conversation can change everything.
You can view Amanda’s portfolio and more on her website at www.amandacedwards.com.